ISL: Will it be merrymaking at Marina Arena?

Chennaiyin FC has a balanced team of young legs and experienced minds. And bolstered by its core group of players, the team will be hoping to finish at the top of the table this year.,

In John Gregory, Chennaiyin FC has a fresh, yet experienced face in the dugout, and this could be the catalyst for the team’s better performance this year.   -  M. Vedhan

Chennaiyin FC will be looking to make a fresh start following its lacklustre campaign in 2016, when it finished at the bottom of the league. The 2015 Indian Super League champion has made changes to its personnel, starting from the top. Marco Materazzi, who was at the helm since 2014, was replaced in early March by John Gregory.

Materazzi, a member of the Italy team that won the World Cup in 2006, guided Chennaiyin FC to glory in 2015. He remains the coach with the most numbers of victories in the ISL.

The changes made in the squad have indicated Chennaiyin FC’s preference for lowering the average age of its players. The franchise released some of the senior players in exchange for relatively young talent. Players such as John Arne Riise, Bernard Mendy and Mehrajuddin Wadoo have been replaced by men with fresher legs like Inigo Calderon, Henrique Sereno, Keenan Almeida and Mailson Alves. Granted Calderon, at 35, is no youth, but Sereno, Keenan and Mailson, all playing in their second ISL, are considerably younger.

Past performance:

2016: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 20; Top scorer: Dudu Omagbemi (5); Result: Finished seventh.

2015: Matches played: 17; Goals scored: 32; Top scorer: John Stiven Mendoza Valencia (13); Result: Champion.

2014: Matches played: 16; Goals scored: 27; Top scorer: Elano Blumer (8); Result: Entered semifinals.

In an interview to the ISL’s official website, co- owner Abhishek Bachchan stressed the importance of a tried and tested group of players. “Retained players have literally been the backbone of the team, if you take someone like Rafa (Raphael Augusto) or Jeje (Lalpekhlua), they all form an integral part of our squad. Karanjit (Singh) has been amazing for us between the sticks and there is a sense of balance that I’m happy with,” he said.

Star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was retained by the side, will once again be Chennaiyin FC’s source of goals. The team’s current leading goalscorer should play an important role in helping Chennaiyin FC bounce back from its disastrous campaign last season.

COACH SPEAKS: Gregory welcomes longer league

Others who have been retained are Dhanachandra Singh, defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh, who was solid for Chennai City FC in the I-League last season, and Thoi Singh, who was impressive in the 2015 triumph. Thoi Singh, who was given limited game time last season, will be expected to partner Augusto in midfield.

Another player integral to Chennaiyin FC’s plans and its vision to promote youth is left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala. Materazzi gave him a chance last season, and the 19-year-old from Mizoram impressed both in offence and defence in his breakthrough season. Jerry’s explosive runs down the left flank and his crisp crosses will trouble rival defences.

While Materazzi will undoubtedly be a part of Chennaiyin FC’s legacy, the team was in desperate need of a change at the top. Towards the end of last season, the Italian seemed to have lost interest in the team, and it showed in the results. Chennaiyn FC drew more games than FC Pune City and NorthEast United FC, who finished ahead of Materazzi’s men in the league table. This can be put down to the Italian not knowing his best XI, and from his indifferent answers in post-match pressers it was obvious that Materazzi was not returning to the Marina Arena.

In John Gregory, Chennaiyin FC has a fresh, yet experienced face in the dugout, and this could be the catalyst for the team’s better performance this year. Gregory, 63, who has been at the helm of teams like Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Derby County, should take to ISL like a duck to water. After all, the demanding nature of the League is something that the Englishman is not alien to.

From the looks of it, Gregory has a balanced team of young legs and experienced minds. And bolstered by its core group of players, Chennaiyin FC will be hoping to finish at the top of the table this year.

CELEBRITY SPEAK

A. Sharath Kamal (Commonwealth Games gold medallist):

"For this season, with a new coach, Chennaiyin FC has a good team and I hope that it will reach the play offs. From there every team has the possibility to win the title.

 

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